Freddie Roach, the world's top trainer, signed on a year ago amid great fanfare to lend his expertise to the U.S. Olympic boxing program. Today, there is a question of whether Roach is even a member of the team.
Roach says yes, but USA Boxing officials can't agree. Gary Pliner, a member of the USA Boxing board of directors, told Yahoo! Sports' Martin Rogers on Monday that "there is no more involvement" between Roach and the program.
But Anthony Bartkowski, the executive director of USA Boxing, said he is hopeful to keep Roach with the amateur program.
Roach will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in June and is a five-time Trainer of the Year. His addition to the USA Boxing staff as a consultant last year was seen a boost to the country's sagging amateur boxing program.
But less than three months before the start of the London Games, the U.S. is without a coach and the situation surrounding Roach is muddled. Joe Zanders was told in February he would be replaced as the Olympic coach. USA Boxing has nominated Basheer Abdullah to replace Zanders, but the nomination is subject to approval by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Pliner was unequivocal in his statement to Rogers that Roach was no longer involved with USA Boxing.
"There is no more involvement," Pliner said of Roach. "That's finished. Freddie was never actually going to coach at the Olympics anyway. There was an issue with time. He has a lot going on with his professional fighters and he was away or busy. It was a mutual thing. Obviously, our guys are close to the Olympics so they are right in the middle of their most important preparation time. We are happy with the situation we have in place and our fighters will be ready."
Roach, though, was surprised when Yahoo! Sports told him Wednesday that Pliner said he was out. Roach, who is known as one of boxing's squarest shooters, said he is still working with the team and that as far as he knows the team members are planning to work out soon at his Hollywood, Calif.-based Wild Card Gym.
He said he is eager to continue his involvement and that he only had backed off because he felt Zanders didn't want his help.
"We'll be back together, as far as I'm concerned," Roach said. "The previous coach [Zanders] didn't want my help, so I wasn't going to force myself on someone who didn't want me around. But my plan is to help them. I know we just had a good performance at the [Americas] qualifier in Brazil and I want to help the best way I can. I'm available for the new coach, and the guys are supposed to be here [at the Wild Card] so I can work with them some more."
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Bartkowski said Wednesday he was happy with Roach's work, though he said he wished Roach had more opportunity to coach the amateur fighters.
But Bartkowski said he plans to arrange a telephone call between Roach and Abdullah next week.
"Freddie is not out of the picture yet," Bartkowski said. "We want to renew the relationship and continue to work together going forward. However, because Freddie has been training Manny Pacquiao and we've had a lot of events going on, we haven't been able to get them together. But I believe we'll get that done next week and have Freddie talk to Coach Abdullah and hopefully integrate some ideas."
Six American boxers qualified for the London Games at the Americas tournament last week, giving the U.S. team nine fighters. Roach said he thought the Americans "had a good-looking team," adding "it looks pretty good that at least three guys" might medal.
The U.S. has won 109 Olympic boxing medals, more than any country, but has been very poor in recent years. In the last five Olympiads – from the 1992 Games in Barcelona through the 2008 Games in Beijing – the U.S. won three golds, one silver and 10 bronzes. The 2008 team was one of the worst performers in U.S. history, with the only medal a bronze won by heavyweight Deontay Wilder.
In the three Olympiads in which the U.S. competed from 1976 through 1988 (the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow), it won 17 golds, five silvers and four bronzes.
Bartkowski, who said he is optimistic the team is on the right track, said the coaching change from Zanders to Abdullah was necessary in order to retain funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which had given USA Boxing "performance markers" it was required to hit.
Bartkowski said the coaching change was done to ensure performance and to maintain funding from the USOC.
"Our goal is to have the best team we can and to start winning medals for our country again," he said. "We need to do what is right for the athletes and make sure we have a coach who is focused and has an open mind on helping this program to improve."
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